Planning and Community Health Research Center

Brownfield Remediation and Reuse

Brownfields are underused or abandoned sites contaminated by hazardous materials and toxins such as hydrochloric acid, zinc compounds, arsenic, and lead.

Improper reuse of these sites can result in exposure to these toxins and serious health complications:

  • acute and chronic pulmonary conditions
  • cancer
  • cardiovascular disease
  • birth defects
  • psychological and behavioral deficits
  • brain and nerve damage
  • digestive problems
  • other negative health consequences

Despite these health risks, with proper decontamination and reuse strategies, brownfields can become sites of opportunities — community gardens, urban farms, parks, playgrounds, rain gardens, and other community amenities.

APA's Commitment

APA's commitment to the redevelopment brownfields is an integral part in its effort to assist planners in protecting the natural and built environments and improving the economic and social conditions of neighborhoods. APA has engaged in several projects and produced several resources on the redevelopment of brownfields in an attempt to shed light on this issue.

APA received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch a three-year initiative on brownfields training, research, and technical assistance. The project, Creating Community-Based Brownfields Redevelopment Strategies, aims to help community groups in low-income communities develop a new set of "eyes" to see brownfield sites as opportunities. The project entails the production of a workbook and an interactive training program designed to educate and empower community-based organizations dealing with brownfields.

In January 2008, APA published Community Based Brownfield Redevelopment (PAS Memo), which presents cases on successful brownfield redevelopment projects. The case studies show how three community development corporations in different parts of the country use collaborative planning to transform brownfield liabilities into neighborhood assets. Through these case studies, the publication illustrates the significance of the visioning process in making brownfield plans a reality, as well as the importance of site selection, adequate financing, cooperation, and regulatory compliance through all the stages in the redevelopment process.

The Old Cities/Green Cities: Communities Transform Unmanaged Land (PAS 506/507) report, published in 2002, addresses the challenges to urban vitality presented by abandoned and vacant land. This report helps planners and community members rethink the value of vacant urban land and view it as a neighborhood resource. The report investigates the linkages between brownfields and greenfields; offers examples of adopting large-scale greening systems and promoting reuse of vacant lands and brownfields; and concludes with an in-depth case study of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in combating urban blight through the greening of Philadelphia.